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AuctionWatch to launch online appraisal service

In an announcement to be made tomorrow, the company will offer to value items for $19.95, with the help of several appraisers who formerly worked for eBay and Butterfield & Butterfield.

Auction portal AuctionWatch plans to launch an online appraisal service tomorrow, with the help of several experts who formerly worked for eBay and Butterfield & Butterfield.

AuctionWatch users will be able to submit items to the site's appraisers via digital images. The San Bruno, California-based company plans to charge $19.95 for each appraisal, and promises to have items valued within three business days.

"In the past, appraisals have just been affordable and available to a small segment of the population," said Andre Neumann-Loreck, AuctionWatch's chief operating officer. "We know that there's extensive interest in collecting and appraisals. We think there's a huge unmet need."

The debut comes as AuctionWatch tries to gain traction in the online auction market, which Gomez Advisors expects will grow from $1.57 billion last year and $4.5 billion this year to $15.5 billion in 2001. Although AuctionWatch doesn't hold auctions itself, it's trying to gain a slice of the pie by drawing users through services such as an auction search, image hosting, message boards and now appraisals.

Loreck said that the company will have five in-house appraisers, plus some 12 outside experts. The appraisers are knowledgeable in areas such as Asian art, clocks, collectibles, contemporary furniture and quilts.

AuctionWatch's appraisal team will be led by Jeff Smith, who formerly worked as a vice president at Butterfield & Butterfield and at eBay after the online auction site acquired the traditional auction house. AuctionWatch said that six other appraisers who will be working on its service also once worked for Butterfield & Butterfield.

AuctionWatch will ask users to submit their items for appraisal via digital image. Users also will submit a form that asks detailed questions about their items. Loreck said the company's experts may request more information or photographs before making an appraisal.

Because the appraisers won't actually inspect any items in person--but depend on users for information about their items--some auction bidders may question the validity of the appraisals. Loreck acknowledged that the opinions will not be the same as formal written appraisals, and couldn't be used for insurance or tax purposes.

But Loreck said the service will appeal to collectors who want to have an idea of the value of something they've found in their attic or come across in a yard sale.

"We think this will have very broad appeal," he said.

The defection of the Butterfield employees to AuctionWatch comes as the company has been involved in a highly publicized dispute with eBay over searching the online auction leader's listings. Although eBay has forbidden AuctionWatch to search its listings, it recently licensed its search to AuctionWatch rival AuctionRover.